Welcome To Yuju’s Universe

GFRIEND icon dissects the profound honesty of her solo twist...

A recording booth is a liminal space. A cocoon where you lay yourself bare and come out transformed by the creation of sounds, memories, and emotions. They are chronicles of moments that changed your life — and that now will change someone else’s.  

Close the door. Press record. Red lights: on. Welcome to Yuju’s universe.

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In a Zoom call with Clash, the 24-year-old singer refers to her solo debut album, REC., as a “memoir” — an index of emotions she felt throughout different stages of her life. “I just put all parts of [an] emotional experience into one album,” she says. The five-track EP features lyrics and compositions by her, as well as by other names such as KONNECT Entertainment labelmate and singer-songwriter Chancellor, who worked closely with her in four of the songs.

Over email, Chancellor says that the experience was a blast. “Yuju has so much potential as a self-writing and producing artist. My role was to help her find her comfort zone and execute the ideas that we brainstormed together. She had a clear vision of what she wanted, so coming up with the themes and concepts was an easy, smooth process,” he adds. “I believe that this record was a baby step to enter something special. It only takes that one first step, and the rest is history.”

By naming the album REC., Yuju wanted to encapsulate the excitement of recording new material as a symbol for her solo onset. But before this new path unfolded, Yuju gave her soul and soaring voice to girl group GFRIEND. Formed in 2015, they found prestige for exceptional synchronization and uplifting music — where crystalline melodies contrasted with electrifying guitar solos, and often culminated in one of Yuju’s unmistakable high notes. Later on, they branched out to experiment with other sounds, like brazen synth-pop in 'Fingertip', and glittering disco in 'Mago'. Everything seemed on track for the sextet — until May 2021, when sudden news of disbandment hit the public.

Enter Yuju’s rock-infused album opener, 'Bad Blood (Intro).' Short but lethal, it delivers a bitter punch right from the start. “This is the recording I leave for you / This feeling is sweet-sour / I'm looking forward to it,” she sings in the first verse, per Genius translation. Although the meanings are open to interpretation, it relays feelings that Buddy (GFRIEND’s fandom) can closely relate to — and Yuju sees why. “Of course I was worried about [the disband] and really sad, but I was mostly worried about my fans,” she notes.

While GFRIEND may not be together anymore, the bond between the members is as strong as ever. They visit Yuju on music show backstages, participate in her TikTok challenges, constantly leave comments to one another on Instagram, and mutually support each new step in their journeys. “The GFRIEND time, when I was in the band, meant so much to me and was so good. It has a very special meaning,” Yuju recalls.

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REC.’s final track, 'Blue Nostalgia', feels like a requiem for that era. One of GFRIEND’s main symbols was a blue butterfly, like the one Yuju chases in the lyrics. However, she says that the animal holds multiple meanings. “The butterflies are a memory about a precious [feeling of] sadness. It’s not just one kind of situation, it’s about the whole sadness that I’ve felt so far.” One thing is certain: the years that she spent with the group turned her into who she is. “It was a long time for me to learn things and grow up.”

Her artistic growth can be seen through lead single 'Play'. The strings of Korean traditional instrument haegeum push and pull a somber, heartbroken narrator that mourns a lover who went away. Yuju’s lower register shines in here, showing new ranges to a voice that never ceases to captivate. In the MV, 'Play' takes on one of its multiple meanings: a theatre work. Yuju is both the puppet and the puppeteer, zooming in and out from red sets and curtains. Despite the painful beginning, she finds redemption at the end: in a stunning blue setting, dancing barefoot, she embraces the hurt and transforms it into something graceful.

And grace is synonymous with Yuju. Her lithe figure floats on screen, often twirling in figure skating moves (a passion of hers). Her voice is arrestingly powerful yet never loses its sweetness. She can pole dance and do headstands with the same ease that she lights up the room with her wide eyes and confident speech. She is naturally curious, and comfortable to talk about herself, her art, her experiences. “I remember her wanting the best [while working together],” says Chancellor. “Throughout the whole recording process, I was clearly able to see her struggle to make the song sound better, and for me as a producer that is one of the best moments in the studio. The passion was there 200 percent.”

Yuju has been dubbed an ace, someone who is good at everything — a definition that she laughs off with humbleness. “When I hear that from my fans, of course I’m really thankful, but I think that I have to do more than the expected.” She adds that “I felt [the need to improve] as a real pressure when I was young. But as I became myself, it’s more like an exciting homework that I have to do.” In B-side 'The Killa', Yuju displays an example of that: over a sultry, jazzy beat, she stretches her talents from singing to rapping in perfect flow. “I was comfortable being myself [before], but making this album made me even more comfortable,” she reveals. “When I do something that I love, that makes me who I am the most.”  

“I think [Yuju’s] will to share her vision with her fans is very admirable, whereas many artists in the industry are strictly limited,” says Chancellor. Yuju extends that open mindset to the crowd of staff, producers, and fans surrounding her. She believes the most beautiful part of life is when everybody is true to themselves. “I don’t think it’s a very easy thing to do, but recently I felt it’s beautiful when everybody is focusing really hard on their jobs,” she reflects. “When people are doing everything they can, that is ‘beauty’ to me.”

After journeying through anger, resentment, bliss, and melancholy, perhaps the song that best transcribes Yuju’s universe is 'Cold Winter', featuring rapper Mad Clown. Contrary to its name, the ballad holds onto a warm sense of acceptance — and even appreciation — of hard times. Yuju knows the value of experiencing both limelight and dusk. It all becomes part of her elegant symphony, now recorded for the whole world to see. Yuju recites with lilting optimism the favourite line that she wrote: "Take me anywhere. I miss both the excitement and the loneliness, I enjoyed it all."

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Words: Tássia Assis / @_tassia_a
Photo Credit: KONNECT Entertainment

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